(Bloomberg) -- Advocates for restoring U.S. roads, bridges and other public works pledged to keep pushing for an initiative after Wednesday’s blow-up between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats, but many said it effectively ends the plan’s chances in his first term.
“As of today, it’s hopeless,’’ said Ray LaHood, a Republican and former transportation secretary under President Barack Obama who promotes infrastructure funding through the Building America’s Future coalition. “This is a very sad day for America.’’
Trump was supposed to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other congressional Democrats Wednesday to discuss a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that both sides have promised to deliver. It had given advocates hope that a bipartisan deal was still possible even amid partisan rancor in Washington.
But Democrats said the president stormed out of the meeting, and he declared at a Rose Garden news conference that he won’t work with Democrats on an infrastructure plan unless they stop their investigations into him and his administration.
Groups representing businesses, labor unions, construction workers and equipment manufactures released statements expressing their disappointment, but suggested there was still hope of accomplishing something before the 2020 election.
What happened Wednesday was a setback, but the 2017 tax bill and other major legislative efforts had fits and starts, said Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has helped lead the lobbying for a public works package.
“It’s going to take a little while to have the dust settle on what happened today and figure out where they’re going go from here,’’ Mortimer said. “The issue doesn’t go away, and the problems continue to get worse without some action.”
Others focused on the impact of failing to act.
“With the unpredictability of today’s political climate in Washington, the only certain forecast is that our nation’s roads and traffic will get worse, the economy will slow, and fewer Americans will have jobs until politicians step up and address this critical issue,’’ Chris Spear, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations, said in a statement.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has said more than $2 trillion in additional funding is needed by 2025 to upgrade conditions of everything from roads, bridges and airports to mass transit and drinking water from a “D-plus” level.
It wasn’t immediately clear what would become of legislative efforts already underway. House Democrats were moving to pass a major package this summer, and advocates hoped it would be considered by the Republican-led Senate if Trump supported it.
Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he would continue working to move individual pieces of public-works legislation and address reauthorization of the surface transportation bill that helps finance road, bridge and transit projects and expires in September 2020.
Earlier: Gas-Tax Hike Is in Play as Trump Weighs Infrastructure Politics
Yet while DeFazio supports raising federal fuel taxes for the first time since 1993, there was no consensus on funding – and it would be hard to make Democrats in vulnerable districts vote for a tax increase the Senate would never pass without the president’s approval.
Senate Republicans were debating reauthorizing the transportation legislation. In a letter sent to Pelosi and Schumer on Tuesday, Trump had suggested using the reauthorization as the vehicle for a public works initiative.
But the daunting question of where the money will come from remains unanswered. The Highway Trust Fund, with revenues mostly from federal fuel taxes, will become insolvent by 2022 and requires an additional $134 billion by 2029 just to maintain current spending, according to Congressional Budget Office projections.
That means raising fuel taxes or finding another source of revenue. Congress has been using general fund transfers to keep the fund solvent because spending has been exceeded revenues as vehicles became more fuel efficient and levies weren’t adjusted for inflation.
Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania who co-founded Building America’s Future, said Democrats should pass a more modest bill that at least shows they’re trying to do something about infrastructure.
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President Bill Clinton still tried to work with Republicans even while he was being impeached, and while walking away from infrastructure won’t hurt Trump among his base, it could cost him support of moderate Republicans and suburban voters, Rendell said.
“President Trump has literally euthanized any hope for any meaningful legislation the rest of his term,’’ he said. “We now are consigning the American infrastructure to at least another two years of deterioration.’’
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